Agronomy is delivering fertilizer and best agronomic practice recommendations for different crops and agro-ecologies. Scaling recommendations to a larger area has been challenging because of significant spatio-temporal variation in soil, rainfall and other climatic factors resulting in a substantial risk of under-performance on farmers’ field.
The African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) with its flagship product ‘AKILIMO’ has developed a strategy delivering tailored agronomic advice at scale. AKILIMO’s Agronomy @ Scale principles comprise several components where partners demand and capacity play a central role. First it has toolboxes to source existing and new data at scale from field trials and surveys. Using in-house developed Smart Agronomic Data management (SAnDMan), the project worked with over 20,000 farmers and collected over 50,000 yield measurements. Advanced data analytics, crop modelling and machine learning techniques are used to determine the apparent soil nutrient supply from field observations and geospatial data layers. Because of substantial soil fertility variation within short distances and the limitations of available geospatial data, we understood that field-level soil fertility indicators are key to model yield responses at this scale. The prediction engine estimated apparent soil NPK supply with R2 values of 0.82, 0.70 and 0.60, respectively. Yield response to additional nutrients is translated to fertilizer advice with an economic module optimizing profit based on available fertilizers and fertilizer/crop prices.
In on-farm validation trials, where AKILIMO advice was compared with farmers’ practice, over 75% of the 5,000 farmers realized increases in yield and profit. Beyond tailored advice, AKILIMO is also working on packaging the advice in several interfaces, developing training materials, understanding factors driving use and uptake, and bundling agronomic advice with other relevant services. In this context, the importance of evaluating user experiences is documented. ACAI has thus been pioneering the development and delivery of local relevant agronomy solutions at scale, which formed the basis to the upcoming Excellence in Agronomy Initiative of the One CGIAR research system.